Dog and prisoner, Abu GhraibCensus Controversies

Special Intelligence Operations
The Big Issue Scotland, March 21-27 2011, No. 828
A Hand Up not a Handout – Please buy a Big Issue from a vendor

Protesters are up in arms as US defence contractors are awarded lucrative census contracts by the Scottish and UK governments. Adam Forrest reports.

Collecting this year’s census data is not proving to be a quiet bureaucratic affair. Political controversies about the involvement of weapons manufacturers and prisoner detention in Iraq have added to questions over religion and financial costs.

Campaigners for human rights are appalled that US-based defence contractors connected to intelligence agencies have been hired to help conduct the census across the UK. In Scotland, some people are even willing to risk a criminal record and £1000 fine by refusing to fill in the form.

Anger has been directed toward CACI – a firm which provided interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Civil liberties body Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) does not believe CACI merits the £18.5 million census contract for IT work given to its UK subsidiary.

Chairman Richard Haley is shocked that the Scottish government deemed a company with Abu Ghraib connections to be appropriate. He is urging an Tlth-hour U-turn. “Of course postponing the census would be disruptive,” he says. “But anything would be better than continuing with the unethical arrangements that the Scottish government seems to believe it is stuck with.”

In August 2003, CACI International provided staff to the US army to conduct IT and intelligence work in Iraq, including interrogation services. The company denies allegations that any of its staff were involved in any human rights abuses and has defended itself against lawsuits brought by a number of former prisoners.

“CACI has publicly denied any wrong-doing but it has not so far responded in court to the substantive allegations,” says Haley. “Instead, it is trying to claim that it is immune from legal action because it was working for the US government. CACI is trying to avoid being held to account for its actions at the same time as it is trying to use the Scottish census to launder its reputation. If the Scottish government won’t cancel the contract, I hope that people in Scotland will use census day to say no to this dirty business.”

CACI is trying to use the Scottish census to launder its reputation

In England and Wales, the £150 million contract to run the census was handed to US weapons giant Lockheed Martin – the company responsible for Trident missile systems. The Green Party has dropped its initial opposition to Lockheed Martin’s lead role “because the census is extremely important and needs to be accurate”, but grassroots activists are far from happy.

Sian Berry led the party’s campaign against Lockheed Martin and remains worried about census being done by a comp depends on billions of dollars each year from Pentagon contracts. “The information being collected – including new questions on sources of income and place of birth (to monitor immigration) – would be ideal fodder for the kind of ant-terror analyses being carried out by Lockheed and could lead to a faraway database identifying thousands of us as potential ‘threats’.”

A spokesman for the ONS dismissed fears over data security: “No personal census data will be handled or seen by any American-owned company. No Lockheed Martin employees will see or handle any personal census data. The public can be reassured that their personal details from the census will be kept confidential and remain so for 100 years.

Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, a Christian thinktank, said: “Many British people object to aiding the profits of a company that arms oppressive regimes. Some will object to participating in the census and will boycott it.”

There are other articles about the census in this week’s Big Issue Scotland, as well as an interview with Ken Loach about his new film Route Irish. Go on, buy a copy!

 

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